NASCAR returned to Chicago earlier this year with a thrilling street race through the city. The Chicagoland Speedway hasn't hosted a race since 2019 and NASCAR's return sparked a lot of buzz for the upcoming event and interest in Chicago's racing past. NASCAR's roots in Chicago date back to 1954 when Dick Rathmann, driving a Hudson Hornet, won the July 10th race.
But what about Illinois' racing roots outside of Chicago?
Let's talk about the Algonquin Hill Climbs, a motorsport tradition that captivated our community in the early 20th century. From their inception to their eventual decline and hopeful resurgence.
Origins of the Algonquin Hill Climbs:
The Algonquin Hill Climbs were a thrilling series of motorsport events that took place in the 1920s and 1930s. The concept was elegantly simple—brave racers would compete to conquer the steep, challenging hills of Algonquin in record time. These climbs pushed both drivers' skills and their vehicles to the limits, making for an exhilarating spectacle.
The first race took place on Perry Hill in 1906. The event kicked off on September 8th at 11 AM. Later that day, at 2:30 PM, a second race was held on Phillip's Hill, starting at Morton's House. The hills were steeper than. Today, roads are built and graded to make driving safer.
Crowds gathered along the hillsides as racers from near and far converged on Algonquin, all vying to etch their names into local racing lore. Year after year, the Algonquin Hill Climbs became an annual highlight that drew thousands, establishing our town as a motorsport destination.
The Spirit of Competition:
More than a race, the Algonquin Hill Climbs fostered a sense of camaraderie and the love of the sport. Lifelong friendships and rivalries formed, extending far beyond the racecourse. Racers and the companies they raced for vied for the win, but also in the standings for engine efficiency. Motor companies battled it out in the standings for the best result using the formula: (climbing time X cylinder capacity) / weight of the car. This ensured manufacturers were on a level playing field.
As for the racers themselves, Webb Jay, Walter White, Frank Leland, and Edgar Apperson made their names on our hills.The local community rallied behind this unique tradition, with businesses and residents uniting to support and celebrate the event.
The Decline and Rebirth:
Regrettably, as times changed and motorsport evolved, the Algonquin Hill Climbs gradually faded into history. The echoes of roaring engines were replaced by silence, leaving a void in the hearts of motorsport enthusiasts.
However, like the resilient spirit of McHenry County itself, the legacy of the Algonquin Hill Climbs refused to be forgotten. In recent years, a dedicated group of enthusiasts and historians have set their sights on resurrecting this cherished tradition.
|2004 Recreation, MCHS Collection|
A Hope for the Future:
The return of the Algonquin Hill Climbs reminds us of the value of preserving traditions and the enduring spirit of our community. While they are not yet back to their former glory, the recreations offer hope—a glimmer of what might be. As with any great endeavor, it may take time and collective effort to fully resurrect this beloved tradition, but the dream of once again experiencing the thrill of the climb persists.
The Algonquin Hill Climbs are more than a racing event; they are a piece of our local history, a symbol of resilience, and a celebration of competition's indomitable spirit. Whether you're a racing enthusiast or simply appreciate the unique stories that shape our community, the Algonquin Hill Climbs embody McHenry County's enduring essence.
By: Rachel Seidner, Research Librarian
Algonquin Historic Commission. (2004). Conquering the hills...Algonquin hill climbs 1906-1912. MCHS Research Library Collection.
Purn, Donald V. (n.d.) Algonquin hill climbs 1906-1914 resource book. MCHS Research Library Collection.